Historic port town Koper, in Slovenia, is full of beauty and colour

Slovenia may have one of the shortest coastlines in Europe, but the 47km coastline nestled between Italy and Croatia on the Adriatic Sea includes beautiful old historic towns such as Koper, Izola and Piran.

Today I’m spending the day during a Mediterranean cruise in Koper, Slovenia’s largest port.

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Koper is just over 100km east of Venice on the other side of the Adriatic Sea, and during the rise of the Venetian Empire the heavily fortified medieval town was of great strategic and economic importance to both the Venetians and the people of Koper.

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Historians have dated its origins to the second half of the sixth century when it was known as Justinopolis.

Thanks to trade and political connections with Venice, Koper became one of the leading towns on the Istrian peninsula, and towards the end of the Middle Ages its strategic and commercial importance secured it the position of the Istrian capital within the Republic of Venice.

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Koper, Slovenia.
camera iconKoper, Slovenia. Recognition: Like Johansen/The Western Australian

Like many of the old ports along the Adriatic coast, Koper has had a variety of rulers throughout its history. After Venetian rule, it was held by Napoleonic France from 1797-1813, by the Austrian Empire from 1813-1918, and by Italy until after World War II, when it was part of the Free Territory of Trieste. It then became part of Yugoslavia in 1954 and finally Slovenia in 1991 when that country gained independence from Yugoslavia.

Today, Koper is Slovenia’s main commercial port, but its history has also made it a popular cruise destination. And many of Slovenia’s other attractions such as Lake Bled and the charming capital Ljubljana are easily accessible on a day trip for cruise ships stopping in Koper.

I chose to stay in the city to learn more about its history and explore the old town instead of taking a day trip to Ljubljana.

It’s just a short walk from the port to Tito Square, the main hub of the old town. It is considered one of the most beautiful Mediterranean places on the northern Adriatic. And standing here and looking around, that’s hard to argue with.

I just want to sit and soak up the atmosphere of the place

It’s like a perfectly preserved time capsule with a mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings. The 15th-century Venetian-Gothic Praetorian Palace, the Loggia Palace and the Cathedral of the Assumption with its impressive bell tower dominate the square, but this is just a delicious entrance to what lies ahead.

The old streets of Koper, fanning out from the square, immediately captivate me. They are a beautiful place to explore on foot. The narrow cobbled streets and alleyways reveal many charming shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants.

Koper, Slovenia.
camera iconKoper, Slovenia. Recognition: Like Johansen/The Western Australian

I just want to sit and soak up the vibe of the place, so I find a shady cafe down an alley off the square and kick back for a bit of people-watching while enjoying a scoop of pistachio ice cream and a shot of espresso coffee .

A talented busker takes full advantage of the acoustics in a narrow alleyway to belt out a beautiful rendition of Tears for Fears’ Mad World – just as a young man carries a giant inflatable white swan across Tito Square and two dogs have a little scrap owner overtake each other – perfect timing!

Caffeinated again and eager to learn more about Koper, I continue my exploration. I admire the Da Ponte Fountain, which is a replica of Venice’s famous Rialto Bridge, and the Muda City Gate, which contains the remains of the city’s original outer wall. The walls date back to 1279 when Koper was a fortified island. Over the years, the walls have undergone countless repairs and alterations before finally giving in to the pressure of the growing city. The city gate of Muda is the only one of twelve gates that survives today. It was built in 1516 and replaced an older gate. For centuries, the Muda Gate was the only access to the city accessible by road, becoming a symbol of the city as well as a checkpoint and tollbooth.

Koper, Slovenia.
camera iconKoper, Slovenia. Recognition: Like Johansen/The Western Australian

Back at Tito Square, I climb the 204 steps to the top of the aforementioned bell tower for a bird’s-eye view of Koper. From here I get a much clearer understanding of the scale of the Old Town’s fortifications. I see a welcoming seafront promenade and a leisure port near the old town and clusters of modern suburbs on the coastal hills along the Gulf of Trieste. And I spy in the busy harbor below the Viking Sea at anchor.

Which reminds me – it’s almost time for me to return to Viking Sea – but there’s just enough time for another session with people watching in a restaurant while enjoying a cold glass of Slovenian Lasko beer.

“I love this place,” I think to myself, adding it to my ever-growing list of places I need to visit again.

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